Now that the season is over and the coaching cycle is spinning, it’s a good time to look back and review each position group. Next on the list: the receivers.
Overall Grade: C
Malik Washington and his 694 receiving yards have entered the transfer portal. The news no Wildcat fan wanted to hear broke on Tuesday, and, quite frankly, it sucks. Washington was part of a receiving corps that put up very poor numbers in a lost 2022 season for Northwestern, but it could have been way worse.
As a team, the ‘Cats were ninth in the Big Ten in receiving yards. Wildcat receivers dealt with Ryan Hilinski’s patented wobbly pass for most of the season. Then, Brendan Sullivan took over at quarterback, and was more of a threat in the running game, but wasn’t a notably better passer than Hilinski. Then Sullivan got hurt. It was a revolving door of bad football throwers at the quarterback position for Northwestern this season. It’s honestly quite remarkable that Wildcat receivers put up any numbers at all.
If you take Evan Hull out of the equation and just look at those who truly qualify for the position group, the numbers look a little more grim. Hull was second on the roster behind Washington in receiving yards with 546. Discounting those yards, Northwestern would have been third-to-last in the Big Ten, leading only abysmal offenses in Iowa and Rutgers.
I think a C is a fair score. Analyzing statistics alone, it should probably be lower, but that simply isn’t fair. Receivers require someone to be able to get the ball to them, and the quarterback play was just horrendous this season. That has to play a factor in this grade. Northwestern quarterbacks threw 17 interceptions to 10 touchdown passes this season. It was so bad that I was tempted to give the receivers an incomplete grade, but a C seems fair.
Malik Washington: A
Yes, there were games where Washington seemed invisible. However, not to beat a dead horse, but there were other factors at play. Overall, Washington put up fantastic numbers in an anemic offense. With 694 receiving yards, he led the team and finished with the sixth-most yards in the Big Ten. He also had 65 receptions, good for sixth in the conference. He didn’t score much, but touchdowns are a stupid stat to use in evaluating pass catchers. They don’t really matter that much.
Washington was far and away Northwestern’s number one option. Losing him is a bad sign. That’s a harsh reality for NU, and a tough pill to swallow for Wildcat fans. Without Washington, there really wouldn’t have been that much to watch in the passing game this season.
Donny Navarro III: C+
The senior from Naperville, Ill. showed flashes early in the season. Navarro hauled in a very impressive touchdown pass in the first game against Nebraska in Dublin to give the ‘Cats a lead before halftime. Back before everything broke down, you figured No. 80 would have a fairly significant role in this offense. However, he only amassed 237 yards this season on 31 receptions.
Once again, there was nobody to throw him the football. Navarro was also firmly trapped behind Washington on the depth chart, and with the emergence of Evan Hull as a do-everything type of guy, there simply were not that many touches to go around. Overall, Navarro did okay with the opportunities that were presented to him, so we’ll go with a C+. And yes Northwestern students, that is a passing grade.
Bryce Kirtz: C
The 6-foot junior from Indiana had only 19 receptions this year, so his performance is incredibly tough to evaluate. He did put up 212 yards with a very small portion of the target share, though, so I think he at least deserves a grade.
Kitz’s best game came in the 42-7 trouncing at the hands of Wisconsin in which he had 66 yards on two receptions. He didn’t show a ton, but hey, he’s the first guy on the list who might return to Evanston next year.
Genson Hooper Price: Incomplete
GHP embodies his home state of Texas. The dude is a giant at 6-foot-5, and that gift means he has definite potential. However, just like Kirtz, it’s tough to evaluate his season. Hooper Price did not see much of the field, but hopefully he can be a contributor in 2023.
Jacob Gill: Incomplete
Gill missed the 100-yard mark in his sophomore season by one singular yard. The Raleigh, N.C. native is early in his career, raw and hasn’t played enough for Coach Fitzgerald to really know what he offers.
Raymond Niro III: Incomplete
The No. 1 jersey recipient on Northwestern’s roster this season saw little playing time. Niro did, however, score twice this year, so his impact was felt minimally. But with five total receptions, there wasn’t enough to go off of to give him a grade.